As if to guarantee himself against this awful sin, Mr. Dempster seized his glass of brandy-and-water, and tossed off the contents with even greater rapidity than usual.
‘Have you fixed on your third delegate yet?’ said Mr. Pilgrim, whose taste was for detail rather than for dissertation.
‘That’s the man,’ answered Dempster, pointing to Mr. Tomlinson. ’We start for Elmstoke Rectory on Tuesday morning; so, if you mean to give us your signature, you must make up your mind pretty quickly, Pilgrim.’
Mr. Pilgrim did not in the least mean it, so he only said, ’I shouldn’t wonder if Tryan turns out too many for you, after all. He’s got a well-oiled tongue of his own, and has perhaps talked over Prendergast into a determination to stand by him.’
‘Ve-ry little fear of that,’ said Dempster, in a confident tone. ’I’ll soon bring him round. Tryan has got his match. I’ve plenty of rods in pickle for Tryan.’
At this moment Boots entered the bar, and put a letter into the lawyer’s hands, saying, ‘There’s Trower’s man just come into the yard wi’ a gig, sir, an’ he’s brought this here letter.’
Mr. Dempster read the letter and said, ’Tell him to turn the gig—I’ll be with him in a minute. Here, run to Gruby’s and get this snuff-box filled —quick!’
’Trower’s worse, I suppose; eh, Dempster? Wants you to alter his will, eh?’ said Mr. Pilgrim.
‘Business—business—business—I don’t know exactly what,’ answered the cautious Dempster, rising deliberately from his chair, thrusting on his low-crowned hat, and walking with a slow but not unsteady step out of the bar.
‘I never see Dempster’s equal; if I did I’ll be shot,’ said Mr. Tomlinson, looking after the lawyer admiringly. ’Why, he’s drunk the best part of a bottle o’ brandy since here we’ve been sitting, and I’ll bet a guinea, when he’s got to Trower’s his head’ll be as clear as mine. He knows more about law when he’s drunk than all the rest on ’em when they’re sober.’
‘Ay, and other things too, besides law,’ said Mr. Budd. ’Did you notice how he took up Byles about the Presbyterians? Bless your heart, he knows everything, Dempster does. He studied very hard when he was a young man.’
The conversation just recorded is not, I am aware, remarkably refined or witty; but if it had been, it could hardly have taken place in Milby when Mr. Dempster flourished there, and old Mr. Crewe, the curate, was yet alive.
More than a quarter of a century has slipped by since then, and in the interval Milby has advanced at as rapid a pace as other market-towns in her Majesty’s dominions. By this time it has a handsome railway station, where the drowsy London traveller may look out by the brilliant gas-light and see perfectly sober papas and husbands alighting with their leatherbags after transacting their day’s business at the